A fantastic way to reconnect with the history and culture of Mexico is by exploring the Ruta Puuc Mayan ruins. Five well-preserved Maya archaeological sites are just a day-trip south of Mérida in the southern state of Yucatán. Visitors can better connect with the spirit and pathos of the Mayan people. This intimacy is lost in the bigger and more-trafficked Mayan ruins of the region, like Chichén Itzá and Tulum.
To begin your adventure, head south from Mérida until you hit the first of the Puuc sites, Labná. This is a rolling scrubland. In fact, the word Puuc comes from the Maya word for hill. Archaeologists also use the term to describe the region’s unique architecture. The “V-shaped” corbelled arches are one of the architectural highlights of the region. Also worth noting are the ornate facades, amazing masks, delicate figures and intricate designs that adorn many of the buildings.
Next up on your journey is the small site of Xlapak. At Xlapak, check out the site’s main attraction, El Palacio. With more than 90 rooms, this palace is impressive for its size alone. Continue on to Sayil, where you will find a pyramid with a delicate roof-comb not unlike the ones you will find in the larger Maya sites of Calakmul and Palenque south from here.
Kabah is the next ruins site along the route. Here you can travel along an ancient Maya road, known as a sacbé, to the Palacio de los Mascarones. Her you can marvel at a broad collection of some 300 masks dedicated to Chac, the rain god. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for Mot-Mot birds, iguanas and other wildlife. Modern-day Maya still live in the region. Stopping to chat about the local flora and fauna is always a welcome break.
To finish the tour, head to the large ruins site of Uxmal. This impressive collection of pyramids, galleries, plazas and palaces flourished during the Late Classic Period of Mayan history (600 to 900AD). The site is nearly five times as big as any of the other sites along the Ruta Puuc so you will definitely want to spend an hour or two here.
Getting to the Ruins
Many travelers go with an organized package from Mérida through an operator like Lomas Travel. As in most places, a basic understanding of Spanish is recommended if you decide to go it alone and rent a car. Those deciding to stay the night along the Ruta Puuc will want to stay in either Ticul or Santa Elena. On your way back from the Ruta Puuc, extend your trip with a dip in the crystal clear waters of the cenotes (limestone sinkholes) of Cuzuma.